By Barnabas Thondhlana
On the night of 14-15 March 2019, Cyclone Idai hit landfall in Beira, Mozambique, killing over 1,000 people across Mozambique, Malawi and Zimbabwe and leaving 2.6 million people in desperate need of humanitarian assistance.
For a combined nine days, torrential rain fell across a vast region.
Catastrophic damage, caused by strong winds and extensive flooding, wiped away harvests and destroyed seed stocks. Millions lost their homes and livelihoods.
Almost one year on, more than 8.7 million people do not have enough food or water, and over 100 000 people in both Zimbabwe and Mozambique are still living in temporary shelters.
Idai was not an isolated incident. A series of increasingly frequent and severe weather events magnified Idai’s impact. An El Niño drought, intensified by climate change, had gripped Southern Africa for months before Idai hit. This rendered the land more susceptible to flooding.
Landslides wiped out entire hillside villages in Zimbabwe. Many people who lived there were plunged along with their homes into rivers that soon rose high enough to sweep away yet more villages in the lowlands and deposit lifeless bodies as high up as the canopies of the trees of the flood plain of central Mozambique’s Buzi River.
At least 157 Zimbabweans were swept into Mozambique, where locals promptly buried them, thinking of the dignity of the dead, rendered unrecognizable by the vicious torrent. But another 344 people presumably killed during the cyclone and washed away into Mozambique have no known grave.
For over a year family members have yearned for the bodies of their loved ones to be returned. The government made promises to retrieve the bodies, no matter the challenge of identifying them.
So it came as a surprise when government announced that the bodies of 157 Zimbabwean Cyclone Idai victims who were buried in Mozambique in 2019 are to be exhumed, identified and brought back to Zimbabwe.
DNA tests will be undertaken so as to positively identify the exhumed bodies with known graves in Mozambique.
The Government through funding partners is now pushing ahead to build better the communities affected by Cyclone Idai in sectors including transport, power, water and sanitation and agriculture.
Cyclone Idai, the tropical storm that killed hundreds of people, destroyed crops and livestock and battered eastern and central parts of the country in 2019, was the worst weather-related disaster in more than 100 years in Zimbabwe.
Local Government and Public Works Minister July Moyo, who chairs the Inter-ministerial Committee on Civil Protection, said among those still missing Government has since identified names of at least a quarter.
“As you may be aware, the immediate impact of Cyclone Idai was the loss of 347 lives with 344 people still missing who are now deemed dead.
“The names of the 203 of the 344 missing people are now known from information provided by villages where they lived. Modalities by Government pathologists to exhume and repatriate bodies of the 157 who died in Mozambique remains a priority,” he said.
Minister Moyo said the total number of people injured was 201 while the number of the directly affected was more than 50 000.
“The number of directly affected households was staggered at 52 027 of which 17 608 households were left homeless.
“Despite the ongoing response to the Covid-19 pandemic, commendable efforts by Government and partners has seen restoration of livelihoods to the affected communities particularly in the areas of housing, roads and bridges infrastructure, education, health, water, sanitation and hygiene, agriculture as well as small and medium enterprises,” he said.